The following is an interview with Leslee Scallon, co-founder (with Michael Trent) of the Los Angeles-based Dances With Films festival, which is celebrating its 17th year and taking place from May 29th through June 8, 2014. In this interview, Fanboy Comics Managing Editor Barbra Dillon chats with Scallon about the mission behind the film festival, this year’s motto, the new addition to the festival’s Advisory Board, and how both aspiring filmmakers and cinefiles can learn more about this year’s event.
This interview was conducted on May 8, 2014.
Barbra J. Dillon, Fanboy Comics Managing Editor: What was the initial inspiration for Dances With Films, and how did the film festival come into existence?
Leslee Scallon: Michael (Trent) and I are filmmakers and actors. We wrote and directed a film titled Indemnity. After submitting it to the key industry fests and getting those all-too-familiar generic rejection letters, we knew we wanted to have a screening for the Hollywood power players. Michael came up with this crazy idea of banding together films that had no ‘star’ power to show how there could be films without those ‘stars’ that can be just as entertaining and good as big studio films.
BD: The film festival will be celebrating its 17th anniversary this year, with the motto “Love Your Journey.” What makes Dances With Films unique as a film festival, and how will this year’s motto affect the competition?
LS: Well, we said it in the above answer, but our motto was originally ‘No Politics, No Stars, No S–t,” if that tells your readers anything. As we have matured, though, we have realized that this is the long haul and that the film industry is not for the faint of heart.
BD: DWF added a new member to its esteemed Advisory Board this year. Can you tell us about this individual and his contributors to the film industry and the film festival?
LS: Steve Tisch is an amazing person who is one of the most successful producers in our industry. He recognizes talent in the early stages and is a true mentor of that talent, probably best shown by his producing of Risky Business almost three decades ago and launching Tom Cruise’s career. He is a generous contributor of his time and assets to many organizations, and we are honored to be one of those.
BD: As the festival’s co-director, do you have a chance to interact with the filmmakers, and how would you describe this year’s competitors (and their films)?
LS: That is the absolute best part of the whole festival. We consider Dances With Films to be a family of extremely talented individuals and getting to know them throughout the festival, not only via their films but personally, is fantastic. We have filmmakers from year one who still help out with the fest and even continue submitting to the fest their latest projects.
Being a filmmaker, this is a marathon of a business, which is creative, but also, a business. It takes a tremendous amount of money to create a film and dedication to take that film all the way to finding an audience. DWF is proud to be a part of that process.
I would be remiss not to tell you about how many of these creative filmmakers met for the first time at DWF and then went forward to collaborate on projects that end up being submitted in following years.
To describe this year – well – we have an extensive screening process before we even decide upon our film selections. So, before we ever shake hands with them, we have asked them to clarify to us why they’ve made this film, what their goals are, what they truly want – we want to be sure we have do’ers, not dreamers . . . if you know what I mean. But, without the dream, you can never do! I feel our filmmakers, frankly our DWF team, are creative dreamers who do. This is why our theme, as we crest in year 17, is ‘Love the Journey,’ because filmmaking, if you decide to pursue it all the way, is a journey.
BD: For aspiring filmmakers who are hoping to submit their films next year, are there certain requirements that you look for in submissions?
LS: We have no absolute requirements, because, after all, rules are made to be broken. And, you wouldn’t be a DWF filmmaker if you didn’t break a couple. We do prefer films that are World, US, or West Coast premieres, as we showcase to the entertainment industry and Los Angeles, not a place that likes repeats. For our competition films, we strive to have no ‘stars’ in the line-up. We do not discriminate against working actors, though (or brothers, sisters, kids of stars for that matter either).
BD: Is it possible for our readers to purchase tickets to the festival, and where will the screenings be held?
LS: Absolutely, tickets are on sale at our website! (See below.) We have a tremendous line-up of films and iconic speakers for our panel series that we love to share with those who love film. Our home is the TCL Chinese 6 Theatres in the heart of Hollywood in the Hollywood & Highland complex.
BD: Lastly, where can our readers find more information about Dances With Films?